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An Open EdTech Letter to Secretary DeVos

Professional staff, innovative programs, and the power of convening. 

February 7, 2017
 
 

Dear Secretary DeVos,

Congratulations on your Senate confirmation as Secretary of Education.  

As a member of the higher ed community, I’m happy to report that that you will be working with an incredibly talented, dedicated, and highly respected professional staff.  The team that I’m most familiar with is Office of Educational Technology. This office is staffed by educators, technologists, and policy experts who have made important contributions to shared efforts to improve quality, lower costs, and increase access in higher education.

The department works on many issues at the intersection of education and technology.  Over the weeks and months to come, you will have the opportunity to learn about some of the innovative programs to leverage technology to advance higher education, such as the EQUIP program, that the department has championed.  My hope is that these programs are evaluated and understood in the way that we in higher education view them - as essentially non-partisan and non-political.

I also hope that your department builds on the excellent work represented in the Higher Ed Supplement to National EdTech Plan, as this is a document (and a vision) that has strong buy-in from our postsecondary edtech community.  

There is much good work to be retained and built upon, and just as you ask for an open mind from our higher ed technology community for your leadership, we ask for an open mind in reviewing the educational technology (edtech) initiatives and partnerships that were begun in the previous administration.

One essential role that the department can play in driving postsecondary innovation is that of a convener

The Department of Education, particularly in collaboration with the White House, enjoys an almost unique ability to pull together diverse groups of people.  

Over the past few years, I’ve attended three convenings on postsecondary innovation that were co-hosted by the department and the White House (all held within the White House complex).  These meetings brought together learning technology leaders from different sectors of higher education (including a range of public, private, and for-profit institutions), folks from the foundations and non-profits working in the higher ed innovation space, as well as leaders from a range of educational technology companies.  

It is rare in the postsecondary world for people working at schools, companies, non-profits, associations, foundations, and government to all get together as colleagues and peers.  

These Education Department co-sponsored gatherings allowed us to share information about what is working, what is not working, and where engaging in partnerships might enable non-incremental advances in quality and access.

What was different about these Education Department sponsored gatherings was that the attendees were largely able to shed our institutional / organizational skins.  

Often in our higher education discussions with companies, the relationship is one of a buyer and a seller, a vendor and a client.  At these convenings, the leadership from the for-profit edtech sector enjoyed equal and commensurate status with those leaders from educational institutions, foundations, and higher education focused non-profits.  The most important factor in these discussions was the quality of the ideas presented, and the evidence of innovation that was discussed, and not the tax status of the organization in which the attendee worked.

The Department of Education’s role in helping to create the conditions for knowledge sharing, collaborations, and partnerships across the postsecondary edtech ecosystem is an effort that I hope continues during your tenure as secretary.

I'd like to close by saying that our edtech community is a strong supporter of public postsecondary education, and that we as a profession are concerned with the trends toward public disinvestment.  

Issues around the adjunctification of the faculty, and the erosion of autonomy and security for educators, continues to be of great concern to those of us in the educational technology community.  

We look forward to bringing our knowledge of learning and technology to discussions with the Department on the future of U.S. postsecondary education.

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